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Do Superheroes Have a Future on Netflix?

Posted on May 2, 2019 by in The Screen |

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Superheroes had a brief moment on Netflix. Back in 2017, Netflix acquired Millarworld, a small Glasgow-based comics company in a move that seemed to imitate Disney’s Marvel acquisition. Indeed, Mark Millar, founder of Millarworld, is a former Marvel developer and his properties, which include Kick-Ass and Kingsman promised to be interesting jumping off points for Netflix. But now, nearly two years after this acquisition, it’s time to ask a new question: do superheroes actually have a future on Netflix? Though Netflix and Millar are planning new collaborations, including co-publishing Netflix’s first comic book, Netflix is facing major barriers to entry in the comic book television space.

Netflix, Jessica Jones, And The End Of Comic Books On Screen

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In addition to their acquisition of Millarworld, Netflix’s interest in fostering comics-based content was supported by popular programs like Jessica Jones and The Punisher, two shows licensed from Marvel through Disney. Unfortunately, with Disney and Netflix parting ways, Netflix has recently canceled both of those programs and is focusing on various minor projects from Millarworld, including their new show The Umbrella Academy. This new program has been well-received, but whether viewers recognize it as a Millarworld creation is up for debate.

The semi-obscurity of Millarworld among US-viewers may actually work to Netflix’s advantage. Without the context of the original Umbrella Academy content and because the program is owned and created by Netflix, it’s positioned to thrive as an original series. Since 2018, Netflix originals have dominated the streaming platform, claiming the top spot in 48 of 50 states. The Umbrella Academy, then, could fit within this framework, but Netflix is losing access to the biggest names in comics.

Disney Splits Off

It’s not just that Netflix has acquired a relatively marginal comic book brand to support its original content production that may doom these programs on the platform. Rather, Disney’s forthcoming streaming platform, Disney+, set to launch later in 2019, presents a serious problem. While many Disney properties currently stream on Netflix, including some of the brand’s newest movies, that relationship will be coming to an end. Those who want to access Disney properties will need to pay for a new platform, though the former Netflix-Marvel programs may not make the migration.

Sabrina Saves The Day?

If comic books do have a future on Netflix, it likely won’t be because of Millarworld. Rather, its true hope may be programs like The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, currently one of the top Netflix programs, and which originated as an Archie Comics property. The Sabrina remake diverges significantly from the original comic, but viewers are eating it up. Similarly, Riverdale, the teen drama based on another Archie Comic, is also popular with Netflix users. Here, the classics are king.

So what’s next for comics on Netflix? While The Umbrella Academy is doing well, Netflix likely won’t find huge success with Millarworld properties – at least not compared to Marvel. Rather, it could make more sense for the platform to focus on their current Archie Comics properties, or even consider working with Disney to retain their original Marvel-based series. Though Disney plans to launch new Marvel-based properties on Disney+, they won’t continue Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and other Netflix originals. Reclaiming those is unlikely to hurt Disney, but could be a boon to Netflix as they make sense of how they plan to move forward in this market.

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